By Zane Silk
Many students feel that safety is lacking in the off-campus party scene, which has led Ella Williams ’19 to organize the new Off Campus Safety Coalition (OSC) to serve as an informal network of students with the skills to act when unsafe situations arise. To get things started, she helped organize an active bystander training session this past Wednesday, Feb. 15. Williams hopes that events like this and the coalition will result in a party culture in which students can both have fun and be in a safe environment over time.
“It was an idea that I had last semester after just experiencing going to some off campus parties that were pretty rowdy and fun, but then having conversations with people … about how a lot of people were experiencing really uncomfortable situations. The common theme was ‘I want to help, but I don’t know what to do,’” Williams said.
After deciding to create the OSC and concluding that an active bystander training session would be a good place to start, Williams connected with Colton Silvia ’16 to run the session. Silvia is a Post-Baccalaureate Fellow who works with the Director of Wellness Jennifer Jacobsen, who also helped out with the training. According to Jacobsen, Silvia was especially well suited to delivering the training as a former student.
“Colton, as a highly-trained recent graduate, brings both expertise in facilitation and current best practices, plus an understanding of the off campus culture,” Jacobsen wrote in an email to The S&B.
In Silvia’s trainings, students split up into small groups and then both acted out and discussed different scenarios that can occur. According to Silvia it is often the case that when unsafe situations arise, students want to act but are afraid of being uncomfortable, and he teaches techniques that help people overcome those barriers to action. Silvia said that he was excited to lead this training because he believes that off campus parties in particular have safety issues that on campus events do not.
“Let’s look at a party on East St., and then a party in Harris. The party in Harris has ACESS, it has trained servers now when there is alcohol … not to mention there [are] probably CAs there. Whereas a party on East St. — you might not even know who lives in the house. “
A few days before the training Williams said there were multiple issues she hoped attendees would come away with tools to address, including alcohol and unwanted physical contact.
“I think often at parties unwanted touching is a really common thing that I’ve experienced, and that many people I’ve talked to have experienced,” said Williams. “Also, just how to know if a friend has had too much to drink, and is actually blackout and just seeming like they’re okay.”
Williams has tried to get the word out about the work she is doing through social media, email and word of mouth, and she has received an overwhelmingly positive response.
“I [had] 40 people enthusiastically RSVPing, so I think it’s clearly something people have wanted to see for a while,” said Williams in advance of the training. “We’ll probably have more trainings if there are a good amount of people who can’t make this one.”
Williams hopes that the coordinator role she has taken on will become a paid position, but she wants the OSC to remain a student-driven effort that is not about policing behavior but rather equipping people with the tools to help out.
“It’s definitely something that I need to think about a little more — how to keep it loose and self-gov. But if there’s money involved, I think it would have to be a little more coordinated. … It’s something that I’ll be thinking about, and definitely open to input,” Williams said.
Even as she figures out exactly what shape the OSC will take, Williams has a clear vision of what she is working towards.
“Hopefully in future years … everybody who hosts parties will have this training, most people who attend parties will have this training,” she said. “I think just creating a culture of informed bystanders is essential to making sure Grinnell is a good place for everybody.”